Justice of the Peace #2
Justice of the Peace Courts
Justice of the Peace Courts (often referred to as JP courts), are limited in their jurisdiction. That is, they do not have the authority to hear cases such as Divorce / Child Custody, Title to Real Estate, and Juveniles cases, which under the rules of court are reserved for Superior Courts only.
Justice Courts (like Municipal Courts) have authority (called jurisdiction) to hear cases in:
- Civil Traffic
- Criminal Traffic
- Misdemeanor Criminal Cases
Generally, traffic and misdemeanor cases cited into JP court are those occurring outside of the city limits (as the city cases are usually cited into city court). But the JP court can, and sometimes does hear cases occurring within the city jurisdiction that is also within the JP precinct. Graham County is divided into two precincts, with 20th Avenue in Safford being the dividing line between Number 1 (to the East) and Number 2 (to the West).
- Civil Cases (CV), filed in JP court have changed over the past years. Their jurisdiction was once limited to $500, then increased to $1,000, and then $5,000, and is currently limited at $10,000. Civil cases may be claims of debt, such as credit cards, contract disputes, goods and services, injury cases, etc. The dollar limits refer only to the direct damages of the original complaint, and is not affected by additional claims such as attorney fees and other costs the plaintiff may seek in addition to their complaint. In 2012, the Arizona Supreme Court approved a re-write of the Justice Court rules for civil cases, to make them easier to understand.
- Evictions Cases (FD), where a landlord is suing their tenant, to recover possession of the property prior to the expiration of their contract. Where the landlord has "let out" their property to a tenant, the tenant has the rights to the property, not the landlord, until the court issues an order to return the property to the landlord. These cases are very fact specific. The laws and rules for evictions are under Title 12 (Evictions), Title 33 (Landlord / Tenant Act), in conjunction with the terms of their contract, and also have their own set of court rules, referred to as Rules of Procedure for Eviction Actions. Procedurally, the judge has little discretion here because the law is very complete. The judge just need to learn what the parties have previously done either to support their contract or in opposition to their contract, and then apply the law.
- Felony Cases (CR), to determine if there is enough evidence to send it to the Superior Court for "Arraignment" of the felony charges. This proceeding is called a Preliminary Hearing.
- Orders of Protection, "ex parte hearings" where only one party is present asking for a protective order, as well as full hearings where both parties are present to state their side of the disagreement. These include Domestic Violence cases and Injunctions Against Harassment.
- Small Claims Cases (SC), which usually are smaller versions of civil cases, have their own set of court rules and evidence procedures. The rules for these cases are designed to be quicker and simpler for the "pro-per" citizen (proceeding without an attorney). Generally, attorneys are not allowed to appear in SC cases. SC actions are limited to $3,500 (plus fees, interest, and costs).